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James Norton, Nicole Scherzinger and Stranger Things take top theatre gongs

British actor James Norton, US singer Nicole Scherzinger and a stage play spin-off of Netflix series Stranger Things are among the winners of awards after votes by theatregoers.

The 24th annual ceremony of the WhatsOnStage Awards, run by the theatre website of the same name, was hosted at the London Palladium by Doctor Who star Bonnie Langford and musical theatre actress Melanie La Barrie.

Sunset Boulevard, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the film of the same name about a famed Hollywood star fading and spiralling into mental illness, at the Savoy Theatre, was the biggest winner on Sunday, taking home seven awards.

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James Norton at the WhatsOnStage Awards (Ian West/PA)

Former The Pussycat Dolls member and Olivier Award nominee Scherzinger picked up the gong for best performer in a musical at the gender neutral awards, for her role in the production.

She played Norma Desmond, a character in the original 1950s black comedy, who has the well-known line “Right, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” in reference to a director she imagines.

However, the production lost out on best musical revival, which went to romantic comedy Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre.

Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Kevin Clifton, who is in a relationship with TV presenter Stacey Dooley, arrived wearing black high heels with dark trousers, a jacket and a white top, to present best choreography to Matt Cole for Disney’s Newsies.

WhatsOnStage Awards 2024
Kevin Clifton wearing high heels (Ian West/PA)

Clifton has been cast in the regional tour of the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, as the drag queen and shop owner Hugo Battersby, also known as Loco Chanelle, whom the title character befriends.

Roles in A Little Life, a stage adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara’s Booker Prize-nominated novel, won Happy Valley and McMafia star Norton best performer in a play, and Bridgerton actor Luke Thompson best supporting performer.

Norton beat Irish actor Andrew Scott, whose play Vanya, an adaptation of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s family drama Uncle Vanya, took home best play revival.

In a joint statement, WhatsOnStage’s Darius Thompson and Alex Wood said “it is striking just how audiences are keen to lend their support to bold, experimental takes on classic tales” as they cited re-imaginings of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows and Vanya.

“Long may this continue, theatre would not be able to thrive without challenging and forward-thinking creativity,” they added.

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Aimee Lou Wood, who won the best takeover gong (Ian West/PA)

Stranger Things: The First Shadow, which is set more than 20 years before the events of the hit science-fiction horror drama series, took best new play after opening at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End in December.

The writer of the series, Kate Trefry, wrote the play and the Duffer Brothers, creators of Stranger Things, are creative producers. It is produced by Netflix and Sonia Friedman Productions.

Best new musical was won by Second World War comedy Operation Mincemeat, which arrived in the West End last year at the Fortune Theatre, and Sex Education star Aimee Lou Wood won best takeover for her turn as Cabaret’s Sally Bowles at the Kit Cat Club at the Playhouse Theatre.

WhatsOnStage Awards 2024
Luke Thompson with his award for best supporting performer in a play (Ian West/PA)

Cara Delevingne will take on the role of the flamboyant flapper, when she makes her stage debut in the musical, which also took home best West End show, next month.

This year’s award for services to UK theatre was presented to the director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris.

He has led the company as it staged football drama Dear England with The Handmaid’s Tale star Joseph Fiennes as England manager Gareth Southgate, and an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s witch trial play The Crucible with House Of The Dragon star Milly Alcock among the cast.

Best regional production was an adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury.